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Combating Homelessness in Our Own Backyard

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On Friday, November 17th I went on a Midnight Run with my church, the First Presbyterian Church of Katonah. Whenever I tell my friends I’m going on a Midnight Run they always assume I’m running a race at midnight, but this is not the case. The Midnight Run is an organization that has been helping to deliver necessities such as socks, underwear, clothes, food, toiletries, and even suits for interviews, to the homeless and working poor since 1984. This is a very important cause as 63,169 people live in New York City shelters and 25% of New Yorkers classify of working poor according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Working poor are people who have jobs, usually multiple, but are still not making enough to pay for rent and other necessities.

Churches, clubs and other religious and non-religious groups sign up for a specific date. The Midnight Run Organization provides a van and the specific route. The group is then responsible for collecting, making, packing and giving out all the resources. Sometimes you come back with extra stuff, but usually we run out of supplies by the end of the night, with socks and underwear usually being the first to go. This year my church applied for and received a grant for socks from Bombas. Bombas has a company model similar to Tom’s, where they donate a pair of socks for every pair they sell. We ended up getting 250 pairs of socks for this year and 250 pairs for next year. In return we took pictures with the socks for the company to use for advertising. Many of the people we meet on the run do not like to have their picture taken so we took pictures of us packing the socks and hauling the socks before the run.

There are a lot of stereotypes about the homeless population. People always ask me before I go on a run if I’m scared or worried that I will get hurt. Many people believe the homeless to be dangerous or violent people, but this is my third year going on a Midnight Run and I have not once felt unsafe or threatened. The majority of people are grateful for our help and many like to talk to us and tell us about their lives. We joke, tell stories, sing and listen. Every year we see a man named Ron*. He is an elderly man who walks with a cane and loves to sing. He used to be a professional singer, but now he lives on the streets of New York City. You would think living on the street  would make a person cold, but not Ron*. Everytime we come by he greets us with a smile. He sing us Italian opera and then has us all sing “America the Beautiful” with him. And he always sends us off the same way, he will thank us and then say “The Constitution granted me the right to free speech but it never guaranteed me an audience”.

Sometimes, when you live in a place like Westchester, it can be hard to remember your privilege. But when you are placing paper bags of food next to cardboard boxes where people are sleeping, you cannot help but be humbled. This is why I continue to participate in these Midnight Runs. It is important that we see the homeless as people and not just statistics. As New Yorkers we have to learn to fight for the voiceless. New York is ranked 44th out of the 50 states for affordable housing accessed by the Center for American Progress, and rightfully so as for every 100 families who need affordable housing we have only 50 housing units. How is it that we only have the capacity to support 50% of these families? From locally, to statewide, to federally we need to start making a difference. Volunteer at your local food bank or find a way to get involved in the Midnight Run organization. Call Governor Andrew Cuomo and tell him to support Senate Bill S4458A which will help prevent the inflation of affordability levels. Call your senators and ask them to support H.R. 4185-Access to Affordable Housing Act  to increase the allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits by 50% and also to support HR 1661-Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act which will better serve extremely low income households.

 

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons

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Combating Homelessness in Our Own Backyard